Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Best Time? on the End of Time?

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Best Time? on the End of Time?

Article excerpt


The twenty-first century will either be the best time or the end of time for the United Nations. The alternatives are that stark.

The imperative of an effective world Organization has not been so clear since its founding in the shadow of this century's bloodiest war. Strife girdles the globe, from Kosovo to East Timor. The economy has gone global, and sovereignty is under siege. Democracy and decentralization--natural allies--are ascendant. And there is no way for any State, even the most self-sufficient States, to secure its interests acting alone.

But faith in the dream is fading in the United Nations' most influential member--the United States--not because of any fundamental disagreement of policy, but because the United Nations does not seem to matter enough. If the United States loses interest, the Organization will lose its way--and go the way of the League of Nations.

So what is to be done? How can the United Nations realize its immense promise and reclaim the role for which it was created? The short answer is success in Kosovo and East Timor. Nothing will matter more. And nothing will be more difficult.

Turning to the institutional issues, one key to a revitalized UN is to focus on core missions, do them well and make certain that the United Nations' many publics are aware of what the Organization is doing. These missions must be important, they must draw upon the United Nations' singular strength--its universality and the immense moral authority that bestows upon its leaders--and they must be within the means (institutional, political and financial) of the United Nations to achieve.

I would identify five such overarching missions: international peace and security; good governance (democracy, the rule of law and human rights); humanitarian relief; the formulation of international standards and norms of commercial and political behaviour; and sustainable development.

Each of these missions draws heavily upon the United Nations' unique legitimacy as the universal world Organization. Each is tailored to the United Nations' comparative advantage in relation to other national and multilateral actors. And all must meet huge and growing needs. Here are a few initiatives that meet the criteria.

* An all-volunteer rapid reaction peace-keeping force is not a new idea. But there may be new opportunity in the twenty-first century to bring such a force into being. The proliferation of conflicts, not implicating the vital national interests of any of the leading powers, eventually will force recognition of a choice other than staying out and going in alone or with others on terms which rule out the risk of casualties, but assure that intervention will follow rather than prevent humanitarian disaster. Under current practice, intervention is acceptable only where the risk of casualties is minimal. The right answer is to create an all-volunteer peacekeeping corps within the militaries of each participating United Nations Member State, which would mean that potential participants, including American soldiers, would have a choice--they could opt in to the corps or not. The corps would be deployed only at the direction of the Security Council. Common training, shared doctrine and advance arrangements for command and control would make the force far more effective than in the past.

* Resort to intervention should be preceded by a new preventive diplomacy of diversity. …

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